On July 7 at 2:30 p.m., a 35-foot “Ride the Duck” site-seeing boat collided with a 250-foot barge in the Delaware River near Penns Landing in Philadelphia.
Witnesses reported that the boat was struck by the barge, which was being guided in by a tugboat, and that all the occupants were in the water as the boat was sinking.
Many occupants were able to put life vests on while being stranded in the water as the boat capsized and sank. Occupants were seen holding on to the Ben Franklin bridge pillar while many were left floating in the middle of the river waiting to be rescued.
Witnesses stated the City emergency boats and Coast Guard were on scene within minutes.
The Philadelphia Police Department and Fire Department worked with the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy, New Jersey State Police boats, Philadelphia Police and Coast Guard helicopters, and civilian boats to rescue 35 people from the water. Ten occupants from the duck boat were transported to an area hospital by Philadelphia Fire Department EMS.
The duck boat was carrying a total of 37 occupants. Two of its passengers did not survive. Crews spent the remainder of the day and the following days searching the river until their bodies were discovered on Friday.
The boat captain had reported that the boat was having engine problems as he called for help. In his interview, he stated that the engine was smoking and stalled out. He told passengers a tugboat was going to pull them into land. He had his passengers put on the life vests as the barge was coming closer to the boat.
A group of 13 Hungarian students, two Hungarian teachers, three U.S. teachers and four U.S. students on a trip to Philadelphia were among those on the boat at the time of the crash. A 16-year-old Hungarian female and 20-year-old Hungarian male drowned in the crash.
Ride the Duck Company provides tours in the Old City section of Philadelphia. Their vehicles drive on land as well as the water. They offer tours in San Francisco, Atlanta, Newport and Branson. All tours were suspended nationwide after the crash.
The boat that sank 50 feet to the bottom of the river was removed from the water Friday. A crane was used to lift the boat to land.
The National Transportation Safety Board has begun to investigate.